Africa’s Gift to Professional Baseball
by Peter Saltamachio
Webster’s Dictionary defines the word ‘Gift’ as:
- A notable capacity or talent.
- Something voluntarily transferred from one person to another without compensation.
- The act, right or power of giving.
For Mpho’ Gift Ngoepe, a South African baseball player just added to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 40-man roster, the word transcends all three meanings. Ngoepe’s notable talents are what got him into the Pirates system, as an outstanding defensive shortstop. The blessing of his birth is what got him his name, from a stranger in church who approached his mother shortly after his birth. And his generosity and mentorship of his teammates are his gifts to those he is involved with.
Ngoepe has the tools to be a pro ballplayer: he is fast, he is a great defender, and he can hit with power. He will be a Major Leaguer if he can hit for average, as his stats(.235 Batting average, .328 On-base percentage, .673 Slugging percentage), are not as outstanding as his fielding(.967 fielding percentage). Admittedly, he looks up to one ballplayer in particular.
Most people would consider Jackie Robinson the first color-barrier breaker in baseball. This perception is flawed slightly by two facts: The first colored man in the Major Leagues was Moses Fleetwood Walker, a catcher and outfielder who played one season, 1889, with the Syracuse Stars. Secondly, while Robinson was black, he was African-American, born and raised in Georgia. Arguably, if Ngoepe plays in the Majors this year, he will become the first ever African-born, African-raised Major Leaguer.
Think about it.
Every other inhabited continent has been represented, including hundreds of players from Venezuela, players from New Zealand, even players from the Netherlands(Didi Gregorius of the Yankees) and the Netherlands Antilles(Andrelton Simmons of the Los Angeles Angels). Africa has had Minor Leaguers, but Ngoepe is the first to make a 40-man roster of a team, one short step from the Majors.
Africa is the continent where man most likely emerged from, fully evolved. Why has it been the most vilely treated? Slavery, above all things, contributed to the low, inferior portrayal of Africans in the eyes of Europeans, and later, Americans. African-Americans were viewed as a lesser species, and were prevented from professionally playing the sport they grew up playing. 68 years after Walker was slurred off the Syracuse Stars by other teams, Jackie Robinson re-integrated baseball.
Now, Africa has its star, a motherless son with a brother to love, Ngoepe can make baseball history with his bat and glove.